News and Links on Beit Shemesh

Hadassah Margolese, mother of Naama

Since the documentary aired last week (now updated with clearer subtitles), the girls of Orot in Beit Shemesh have been able to get to school with no problem. The publicity achieved its immediate goal. Whether it will work in the long term remains to be seen.

Some of the haredi response has included attacks on the secular press for inciting against all haredim.  The most blatant example  of such a response was a a protest in Jerusalem Saturday evening that included children and adults dressed as Holocaust victims, complete with Jewish stars.

A followup story on Channel 2 had interviews with haredi residents of Beit Shemesh, claiming that the extremists were in the same category as organized crime members. The residents refused to speak on camera, afraid of what would happen to their families.

Leading Lithuanian rabbi Elyashiv called on his constituents to boycott the army and university programs designed for haredim, saying “They warned that the purpose of these programs is to change the spirit and essence of the haredi world and to subvert it with all different types of other influences, nationalist and enlightenment ones, which are not the values of our fathers.”

In the JTA, Uriel Heilman analyzes the haredi reactions to violence in their community.

Naama’s mother, Hadassah Margolese, spoke at the rally in Beit Shemesh (video).

“Do the extremists really think God wants them to throw eggs at little girls and yell bad words at women who walk by on the street? Do they have a different God than we do?” he asked.

What could I possibly say? I tried to explain that when people believe in something very strongly, sometimes they get confused about what is okay to do in order to convince others to believe the same way. But when my kids asked if that included hurting other people, again, I was at a loss.

Today, our efforts to mold our children into religious Jews are being undermined by these violent extremists and by the haredim who stand by and do nothing.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein makes no apologies for his co-religionists in Welcoming the Haredi Spring,

David Ram, in a comment to the Adlerstein article, gives his own analysis (slightly edited):

Well written piece. I believe that your idea of trying to completely undermine the extremist elements as outside the purview of normative orthodox Judaism is a good idea, but extremely difficult.

I want to give you a bit more perspective – of someone that lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh and has interacted directly with some of the most influential chareidi rabbis in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

In halacha (Jewish law), the discussion and controversy center around two competing values. For example, not doing work on Shabbat and tending to a sick person. Sometimes the law is to keep Shabbat and not provide medication or otherwise to the sick, if the sick person is not in danger. And sometimes we must break the Shabbat to deal with the sick. Both values are good, but they clash, and we need to know what to do in each situation. Essentially, all halachic questions, by definition, are asked since there are two competing values at play. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a question. The same is true with what is happening in Beit Shemesh.
One of the main differences between Galus (the exile i.e. the Diaspora) and Israeli societies is that in the galus – all you have is the 4 cubits of the law. In Israel – hashkafic (philosophical) values often battle even legal issues. The divide between dati leumi (nationalist Orthodox Jews) and Chereidi (ultra-orthodox) in Israel is not halachic. It is not even a divide regarding commitment to Torah and its values. It is philosophical. Largely around the concept of Zionism. That is it. All the rest is a façade. There is no modesty issue that the chareidim are battling in Beit Shemesh. It is Zionism in their midst. They have plenty of modesty challenges in their own ranks. This is about land, control, money and the eradication of Zionists from “their” communities. And in Israel, philosophy is fundamental. The rabbis in Israel place hashkafa very high on the priority list. Therefore, things like kavod habri’os (respect for people), stealing, destroying property, shaming the name of G-d, etc. can often be viewed as a secondary value to undermining the power of Zionism and strengthening the power of chareidi lifestyle.
There is a common misconception among Jews in the Galus and even Anglo-Saxons living in Israel – that Israel is like chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel). And by that I mean – there are 2 general directions (1) modern orthodox and (2) black hat.  In chutz la’aretz, black hat communities are viewed as the ones that hold a strong commitment to Judaism, to Torah, to taking the obligations seriously and living Jewish in the fullest sense. And the modern orthodox are the ones that are perceived as only tolerating the religion and finding compromises that allow us to live comfortably despite it. (Sorry for the generalizations.)
In Israel, this is pointedly false. In Israel there are two general philosophical tracks from which to choose within Orthodox Judaism. Each track has its strong commitment camp, its more modern camp and even an extremist camp. One track is chareidi – where there are modern chareidi, committed chareidi and extremists. We have the luxury of knowing these 3 camps very well within Ramat Beit Shemesh. The second track is the dati leumi track, with the same 3 camps (modern, committed and extremists). The fundamental difference between dati leumi and charedi is ONLY leumi (nationalist) issues. NOT modesty, strictness in halacha, the shininess of an Esrog…nothing. Only Zionism. In addition, due to the natural pride of building the Jewish homeland, all three Zionist camps respect army service, education and work – even though many of the “committed” and “extremist” camps do not always serve the army, get an education and work (much “frummer” than American black hats).
So this battle is real, and not at all new. And the “extremists” have the backing from serious rabbis and a tacit agreement by many other rabbis to ignore the situation. And we all know, deep down, that the mainstream chareidi rabbis in Israel agree with the radical chareidim. Whether they agree or disagree with the tactics is one thing – but the underlying problem felt by the radical chareidim is agreed upon with virtually all mainstream chareidim. Some like the tactics and some don’t. But the tactics often get the job done . . . so all look the other way.
So again, this is a battle of values. And in Israel, much more than in the US, philosophy is a more important value than the Ten Commandments.

Ram doesn’t give the full picture here, because politics play a significant part in these “philosophical” debates. Political power helps every sector in Israel get property and funding needed for education and housing. So if a leader deviates much from the party line, he could end up alienating your constituents and lose support in the next municipal or national government.

Image: Michael Lipkin


  1. Laurie is wrong. For me what I can do as a woman who associates herself with Chareidi (but would rather the label Torah Jew because I believe there is what to learn from everybody, see mishna in pirkei avos). I don’t believe protests or big condemnations are the answer. The Rabbanim have condemned these people ages ago. The real protest is to truly make an effort to be extra nice to each and every fellow Jew. I make sure to be really nice and smile at every body nobody how they are dressed.

    This business that Chareidim are sitting silently and doing nothing is just plain old wrong. Chareidim do a lot .. it’s just not publicized in the news..

  2. I think there are no words for this deeply touching and courageous speech. I hope 2012 brings some peace there..